The Bear OL English Literature Analysis/Criticism
1. (With determination) I must ask you never to talk to me about it. You know that when Nicolai Mihailovitch died, life lost all its meaning for me.
This is Popova’s reply when Luka suggests that she put an end to her mourning and go out to enjoy her youth while t lasts. He mentions the handsome beauties of the regiment. The stage direction given for Popova is interesting as this gives us the indication that she does not unflinchingly reject his idea of moving on and allowing herself to be available as a woman again. We can infer the fact that she contemplates the idea, which possibly sounds tempting to her, but decides after much consideration to not follow through. The direction ‘with determination’ suggests that it took her some mental effort to make that choice. Why does she reject it? Her love for the husband is not a convincing enough answer because we realize that she easily lets go of his memory later in the play and because of his callous and heartless behaviour. Therefore, it is arguable that her decision to remain in mourning may be based on the image of herself as a loyal and loving wife that she wanted to project. Throughout the first half of the play we encounter a Popova who is disciplined, punctilious, reserved and gentle. She is dressed in widow’s weeds, even though, as Smirnov observes, she has not forgotten the powder! It is then conceivable that she may be preserving her image as a loyal, gentle and composed widow, so that people may not begin to weave stories around her because of her independent behaviour which is unbecoming of a woman (especially at that era).
2. He was so fond of Toby… Tell them to give him an extra feed of oats.
Popova is still holding on to things that are linked to Nicholai. Toby the horse contains a sentimental value as he is linked with Ncholai and her image of him as a strong, masculine and authoritative figure. This shows her inability to move past her husband. Even though the memory may be bittersweet (as we later understand) for her, it is not easy to move on from the traumatic experience of such a relationship where she did not receive the love, respect or the attention that she desired. But Popova lived as his wife for all of her adult life and her self-identity (who she is and how she perceives herself) revolves around that man. Therefore, she attempts to keep him alive through the things that he used, especially the things that are associated with good memories that she has about him. At this point of the play, Toby becomes a symbol of her attachment to him. This is the reason why her final words have a strong impact on the whole play.
Luka, tell them in the stables that Toby isn’t to have any oats at all today.
She is ready to let go of the memory of her dead husband and to move on to explore new opportunities that are in store for her. The memory of her husband which was in certain ways a cage for her has been opened so that she can begin to reinvent herself and redefine who she is according to new possibilities that are presented to her. Therefore, refusing to spend any more time, energy, money or thoughts on Toby signals her freedom from the binding memory of her husband.
3. You fool, you’re too fond of talking…. Ass!
Smirnov in Russian means ‘quiet, still, peaceful, gentle.’ However, ironically, he has the foulest mouth and the ferocious temper. The language he uses to address Luka, who is a servant, reflects his attitudes towards those who are in a lower social class.
4. Smirnov, landowner and retired lieutenant of artillery!
When addressing Popova he is genteel. He introduces himself as a landowner, which directly makes him a wealthy gentleman, worthy of respect and honour.
However, we come to know that he is desperate for money to pay his interest. With such monetary commitments, he has continued to lend money to other people and gotten into trouble. The question arises: If he does not have the money to pay for his own financial commitments, why would he go around lending money to others? This may well be an expression meant to maintain his image of the aristocracy. During the late 1800’s, the Russian landowning gentry was going through major socio-economic upheavals. The abolition of serfdom in 1861 was one of the major reasons for this.
And Chekhov is known for satirizing the bourgeois community who, amidst crisis situations, attempted to maintain their image of aristocracy. Therefore, it seems that Smirnov’s statement of wealth (which was to lend money to people who asked of him), has come back to steal from him even the remnant of what he used to possess. Thus, the playwright exposes the facades put up by people in order to maintain their false sense of dignity which comes from the contents of their purse; not their character.